Appendix 5: Message from the British Prime Minister to the President of the Turkish Republic
For delivery by His Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador in Ankara
31st January 1941
(See page 346)
‘The rapidly growing danger to Turkey and to British interests lead me, Mr. President, to address you directly. I have sure information that the Germans are already establishing themselves upon Bulgarian aerodromes. Hutments are being prepared, and advance servicing personnel numbering several thousands have arrived. This has been done with the full connivance of the Royal Bulgarian Air Force and undoubtedly of the Bulgarian Government. Very soon, perhaps in a few weeks, the movement into Bulgaria of German troops and Air Squadrons will begin. The Air Squadrons will only have to fly from their stations in Roumania to the bases they are preparing in Bulgaria, and will immediately be able to come into action. The Germans would then be in a position to summon you to stand aside, under threat that they will immediately bombard Istanbul and your great cities, and dive-bomb your troops in Thrace. No doubt they would hope either to reach Salonika unopposed or to compel the Greeks to make peace with Italy and yield them air bases in Greece and in the Islands, thus endangering the communications between our Armies in Egypt and the Turkish Army. They would deny the use of Smyrna to our Navy, they would completely control the exits from the Dardanelles, and thus complete the encirclement of Turkey in Europe on three sides. This would also facilitate their attacks upon Alexandria and Egypt generally.
Of course, I know, Mr. President, that, confronted with these mortal dangers, Turkey would fight for her life. But why is it necessary to hand over to the enemy the enormous advantage of being able to secure the mastery of the Bulgarian airfields without a word being said or a single effective counter-measure being taken?
The Germans are, in fact, preparing to repeat on the frontiers of Turkey exactly the same kind of manoeuvre as they accomplished on the frontiers of France in April and May 1940. But in this case, instead of having hesitating and terrified neutrals like Denmark, Holland and Belgium, she has in Bulgaria a confederate and former ally who has beyond all doubt abandoned the will, and never had the power, to resist.
All this, I repeat, may fall upon us in February or in March, and will be open to the Germans even without moving any large masses of troops from the moment when the Bulgarian airfields have been fitted to receive
the German Air Force and are occupied by the advanced aircraft personnel and ground staff. Do we propose to sit still with folded hands and watch the steady preparation of this deadly stroke?
It seems to me that we should be held gravely blameworthy by our respective nations if we were to fail in ordinary prudence and foresight. Even now we have waited too long.
I therefore propose to you, Mr. President, that our two countries should repeat in defence of Turkey the same kind of measures which the Germans are taking on the Bulgarian airfields. My Government wish to send to Turkey at the earliest moment when accommodation can be provided at least ten squadrons of Fighter and Bomber aircraft apart from the five now in action in Greece, which we intend to maintain to help her in her fight. And further we will fight the air war from Turkish bases with ever-increasing air forces of the highest quality. Thus we shall help to give the Turkish Army the additional air support which they need to sustain, their famous military qualities.
But, more than that, we shall place Turkey in a position, once our squadrons are on the Turkish airfields, to threaten to bombard the Roumanian oilfields if any German advance is made into Bulgaria, or better still, if the air personnel already in Bulgaria is not speedily withdrawn. We will undertake not to take such action from Turkish airfields except by agreement with you.
There is more to come. The attitude of Russia is uncertain and it is our hope it may remain loyal and friendly. Nothing will more restrain Russia from aiding Germany, even indirectly, than the presence of powerful British bombing forces, which could attack the oilfields of Baku. Russia is dependent upon the supply from these oilfields for a very large part of her agriculture, and far-reaching famine would follow their destruction. We are assured that the whole soil around the oil wells is impregnated with petroleum, making it possible to start a conflagration on a scale not hitherto witnessed in the world.
Thus Turkey, once defended by air power, would have the means perhaps of deterring Germany from overrunning Bulgaria, and quelling Greece, and of counterbalancing the Russian fear of the German armies. If this decisive position is to be saved, there is not an hour to lose, and on receipt of your assent His Majesty’s Government will immediately give the necessary orders for our advanced personnel, either in uniform or in plain clothes, as you prefer, to start at once for Turkey.
Further, we are prepared to send you a hundred A.A. guns which are now either in or on their way to Egypt. These would be complete with personnel either in uniform, if you so desire, or in the guise of instructors. All other measures which have been discussed with Marshal Chakmak and also the naval measures will, at the right moment, be brought into operation.
The victories we have gained in Libya will enable us to give a far more direct and immediate measure of aid to Turkey in the event of our two countries becoming allied in war, and we will make common cause with you and use our growing strength to aid your valiant armies.’